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CitroŽn Xantia HDi Estate Road test 

CitroŽn UK Ltd kindly loaned me a Xantia 2.0 HDi Estate for a couple of days.  My wife has a 1,9TD which I drive from time to time - her car is the pre-facelift model and is a saloon rather than an estate.  The HDi was therefore new on several counts - it was the first of the current generation Xantiae that I have driven, it was an estate rather than a hatchback and of course it employs the new Next Generation High Pressure Common Rail engine. 

I took delivery of the car from a fellow CitroŽn Car Club member who had appropriated it for half a day and it was just getting dark as I left his house - a chance to see whether the headlights were improved over the awful units fitted to many of the outgoing models.  The route home includes a congested urban section, the M4 motorway, the A34 (Newbury bypass) and a wonderfully hilly, twisting A road with the final stretch being a twisty unclassified country lane. 

Adjusting the seat height was a simple task - just pull on the extending lever but unlike my wife's car, the lever remained vertical - it gave me an unpleasant surprise when I climbed out of the car at journey's end.  First impression was how very quiet the car was - not much noisier than my petrol-engined XM.  Although superficially similar to the old model, the dashboard is quite different in detail - in particular the wheel-mounted stereo controls are totally different and I spent the first five minutes trying to re-tune the radio - the four buttons have multiplied to become eight.

The drive home proved that the company has listened to complaints about the lights - cruising on A roads was possible at much higher speeds than I can manage in my much more powerful XM. 

The low speed ride was typically hydropneumatic - plenty of noise transmission and a fair degree of harshness.  Increasing the speed led to the traditional improvement and I gained the impression that the ride has been firmed up in comparison to my wife's car.  This may be due to different spheres being fitted to the estate or stiffer roll bars.  Body roll was quite marked and the seats did not offer enough lateral support for really enthusiastic motoring which is a pity since the very torquey engine encourages this sort of driving.

The steering was dead and lifeless although higher geared and lighter than on my XM.  Handling was essentially neutral with just enough understeer to provide warning that speeds were too high.  My wife's car also suffers from light, lifeless steering but the HDi felt more precise - a combination no doubt of wider front track and the fact that the HDi had covered ten per cent of the mileage covered by my wife's car.

The pedal layout has been revised - nay improved but the brake pedal felt slightly slushy although the brakes worked well enough.  Presumably this is a response to comments from customers about 'sharp brakes'?.

The engine was really impressive.  It offered the kind of throttle response more normally encountered in a fuel injected petrol engine (not as responsive or, as the French would put it, nerveux as a multi-carburettor engine but a great improvement over any diesel I have driven).  There was no trace of turbo lag although there was a distinct lack of torque below 1 500 rpm - again rather like a petrol engine.  You can drive at 30 mph in top but it is close to abuse.  The tacho is red-lined at just over 5000 rpm and the torque characteristics of the engine encourage exploring a region that is normally best avoided in a diesel.  However, maximum speed in fifth is achieved at just over 4000 rpm.

Cruising on the M4 at normal lane 3 speeds was very quiet - no need to turn up the radio - and wind noise was impressively absent.  Road noise, especially on concrete surfaces was all the more intrusive for the lack of engine noise.  This car is more than able to mix it with the big BMWs and Volvos on the motorway.

Off the motorway and it became apparent that the wide torque band and well chosen ratios allowed for quite rapid motoring.  CitroŽn quote a 0 - 62 mph (0 - 100 kph) time of 11,4 seconds - quick but not earth shattering.  In the real world where the 50 - 90 time is more important, the car felt no slouch - indeed subjectively, it felt almost as quick as my XM.

The following day, I took the HDi to a local race track where it was timed at 115 mph (184 kph) - CitroŽn quote a top speed of 116 (185,6 kph).  There was too much body roll to offer truly excellent handling - you need an Hydractive suspended or Activa for this - indeed an estate car like this has no sporting pretensions.  As mentioned earlier, handling is neutral, changing to understeer as velocity goes up.  This, coupled with increased effort at the helm discourages excessive speed.  The passive rear steer axle ensures neutrality right up to limits that would be foolhardy to explore on public roads.

I did not have the opportunity to check fuel consumption but in 240 miles (384 km), the fuel gauge was still showing three quarters full.  CitroŽn quote 37.7 mpg (7,5 litres/100 km) in the urban cycle, 60.1 (4,7 litres/100 km)in the extra urban and 49.6 (5,7 litres/100 km) combined.  Figures that a 2CV would have difficulty in matching.

Taking the long route to return the car led to my biggest criticism - the lack of lower back support.  My wife's LX trim car has a very effective adjustable lumbar support; this SX trim vehicle does not have it.  Evidence that the bean counters have been at work.

It rained on the drive back and the automatic windscreen wipers were excellent - in light drizzle or torrential downpour, the speed was perfect.

Other neat touches were the factory-fitted Trafficmaster Oracle system, the ability to deactivate the front passenger airbag (ideal for people with a baby in a rear-facing child seat on the front seat), a neat little plastic clip on the windscreen to hold your car park ticket, an easily reached electrical accessory socket and a height adjustable rear view mirror.

The upholstery was 'muted psychedelic vomit' and the interior, without the benefit of a sun roof was rather gloomy.  Air conditioning was fitted and worked very effectively.

At £19,340, the Xantia HDi break is not cheap but build quality appeared excellent.  Shutlines were commendably tight and there was a total absence of squeaks or rattles, even when driving on rough surfaces.  It offers the traditional CitroŽn ride and obviously represents an improvement over the old Xantia.  The engine, in particular is very impressive.  Now, how about an HDi Activa with autobox?

Above the underbonnet of the HDi - compare this with the 1,9TD below
Below the seat height adjustment lever on the 1,9TD - that on the HDi remained vertical after adjustment 
Above the old dashboard, below the new one 
Above  the lumbar support fitted to my wife's LX - not fitted to the higher specification TDi SX 

© 1999 Julian Marsh